How do you get in the zone? And by that I mean how do you prepare yourself to sit down and work on something for a long time (be that a piece of writing, a song or a computer program)?
For me it’s all about turning off distractions, or at least blocking them out so they don’t impair my creativity. Right now I’m sitting in my office at work with the window open. The clock tower is chiming 8, and there is the sound of building work outside. This is not conducive to getting me in the zone, but I can block it out because it’s a fairly common series of sounds around here (my office being near the clock tower and right in between two building sites, one of which will become my new office eventually).
If I can’t turn off distractions then I like to control my distractions as much as possible. This I’ll do largely through headphones and either very familiar music or unfamiliar music without words. I have Spotify play-lists set up to deal with both of these, and I also have a fair amount of music stored locally on my non-work computers.
So what do I mean by distractions? One of the main distractions is the notifications that any internet-connected computer churns out every few seconds. On my work machine I get notifications about emails, tweets, instant messages, texts and all sorts of other things. I need to have a peripheral awareness of them, but what they would really like me to do is to drop what I’m doing and insert some other task right at the top of my to do list. Sometimes that is what I need to do, but most often the task I’m working on now is the most important task, and anything that deviates from what I had intended to do is likely to make me less productive.
Once I’m in the zone, and once I’m writing, then I tend to zone out what is going on in the rest of the world quite well. I often find myself forgetting to notice that I’m hungry or thirsty, and it’s always a surprise to find that I’ve been sitting at my desk for a couple of hours and that the document sat before me has grown in size considerably.
The other key for me is not noticing my computer at all while I’m working on something. This is partly due to keeping my computer uncluttered and distraction free, but also to do with using the right keyboard. I generally either use my solar power Logitech keyboard, or else the keyboard of the laptop I’m typing on. Any laptop I use for this sort of work is likely to be made either by Apple or by Lenovo; both of whom are well-known for understanding what a decent keyboard should feel like and sound like. I also try and use a text editor for writing as much as possible – which generally boils down to either Sublime Text or Gedit. I wouldn’t say I have a favourite as such, and like most things I like to work in at least two different ways to ensure that I don’t get stale or become too reliant on a particular tool-set.
I suppose the flip side to this is what I do what I’m not in the zone. Sometimes I have to write, regardless of feeling like doing something else. I don’t have the luxury of not needing to work, and sometimes that work involves me sitting and writing something while all sorts of chaos is going on around me. If I feel myself getting too distracted then I’ll force myself to write for a certain amount of time, and then take a break, pace around for a bit, and maybe go and take a short walk somewhere. I’ll also use my walking time (I’m currently walking at least 7km each work day and at least 4km at weekends) to think about the next thing I need to do, or how to express some particularly difficult idea or concept.